Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes, all to Hakeem Nicks, as the New York Football Giants rolled in the second half to beat the Carolina Panthers, 31-18.

Touchdown #2; Getty Images


The first win at the New Giants Stadium (we won today, and the old one was ours…it belongs to the Giants) avenges the loss that came in the final Giants game at the former Giants Stadium last season, and the disgust that was felt by me and 80,000 others in attendance. This was a huge, almost necessary win for the Giants, and this is something the players would probably tell you, too: it puts last season in the rearview mirror where it belongs and it gets the new year off to a great start, which I think might be taken a bit for granted. You can’t underestimate what it means to be 1-0 as opposed to 0-1 (just ask Dallas).

The first half was sloppy, and a lot of things need to be worked on this week, but the second half showed a glimpse of what this team is made of.

Initial Reaction:

Like all season openers, everybody struggles to some degree. That being said, the first half was really bad. It took until the second half, but once the Giants finally began firing on all cylinders the Panthers had no answer. Simply put, the Giants made some plays when they needed to be made, and Carolina didn’t. I don’t know what went on or what was said in the locker room at halftime, but the Giants were a completely different team in the second half. The pass rush was nonexistent through two quarters, and blocking on run plays was thought to be unnecessary. Something must have lit a fire under everybody, because a completely different Giants team came out for the second half and the Giants never looked back.

The Giants weren’t very disciplined (a staple of a Coughlin team), committing nine penalties for 95 yards. And playing flat for a whole half like they did today won’t get the job done against a good team. But there were a lot of positives today, and a lot of things to build on.

Offensive Summary:

Eli Manning went 20 for 30 for 263 yards and 3 touchdown passes. While he threw three picks, all three passes were catchable and hit the intended receiver in the hands. That is inexcusable. You have to come down with the ball if it is catchable, especially if it hits you in the hands. Eli’s day looks bad in the box score, but it was better than it looks on paper. He had a couple errant throws, and his three interceptions could have been avoided with more accurate throws, but those three picks fall on the wide receivers. The offensive line did a good job for most of the game in giving Eli and his receivers enough time for the pass plays to develop, but I felt overall they could have done a better job run blocking. Five rushes for a loss in the first half (!) falls on the o-line; but, the second half was an improvement. Overall they weren’t good, but they were alright. Still, that has to change pretty quickly.

The first half was pretty terrible all around, and right at the top of the list was the running game. That being said, the second half was a huge turnaround for the entire team, and one of the biggest turnarounds happened in the running game. Heading into the locker room at the half, the Giants had ran for a combined eight total yards rushing. Eight. At the end of the day, however, Ahamd Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined to run 32 times for 120 yards, with Bradshaw punching in one touchdown. I’m guessing that what you saw today is how the running game will be for this season: the starter, or whoever is the hot back that game, with get roughly 15-25 total touches, while the second back with get 10-15 total touches. Barring an injury or major setback, Bradshaw should be the starter next Sunday once again.

Hakeem Nicks caught all three of Eli’s touchdown passes (One, Two, and Three for the hat trick). All four of Nicks’ receptions were great catches, and if you didn’t believe Matt Vereb’s prediction for Nicks was possible, then Nicks made you a believer today. Believe it: he is a stud. Steve Smith remained the favorite short route target for Eli, catching a team-high 5 passes for an easy 43 yards, while Nicks (4-75) and Mario Manningham (4-85) remained the big play threats.

I liked how Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride made good use of play action passes. The success of the play action today dropped the safeties back a couple of yards and forced the linebackers to be hesitant and respect the pass, which opened up the holes later in the game. More of the same will have to happen next week if the Giants have to keep pace with the Colts.

Defensive Summary:

I want to point this out before I get into anything, because this speaks volumes about the sheer talent of this Giants’ defense and how good they can be when everyone comes to play: The “best running back tandem in pro football”, as in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, were held to a combined 74 total yards.

New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell had been stressing all offseason about having an all-out, attacking defense. No-holds-barred. The defense swarmed in pursuit the entire game and made Matt Moore very uncomfortable in the pocket, sacking him four times, all in the second half, with three coming in the final quarter. The second half pass rush (Kiwanuka, Canty, Cofield, Osi, Tuck) was outstanding, and against the run the defense was good as usual.

With an attacking defense will come turnovers, and Big Blue picked off three passes and also forced a fumble. Deon Grant had the first, Terrell Thomas had the second, and Kenny Phillips had the third. All three interceptions came in the redzone and two came after Carolina had excellent field position. The defense was great in the second half, and despite their own trouble with turnovers on offense the Giants were in the game for the whole 60 minutes because of the efforts of the defense. The Giants’ defense isn’t a finished product, not even close. But if today is any indication at all, especially the second half, this defense is on it’s way to once again being a true Big Blue defense.

The secondary, which has the pieces to be one of the better units in the NFL, was flying around this afternoon. Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle were all over the field. The defensive backs made a ton of plays today – Phillips, Thomas, and Deon Grant all had one pick, and Rolle led the team with eight total tackles. If Aaron Ross can return at full speed, look out.

I really liked the different packages Fewell used. Kiwanuka played defensive end most of the game, but started the game at outside linebacker. Canty often slid over from his usual defensive tackle spot to defensive end. Fewell also often used three safeties – Phillips, Rolle and Grant – on the field at the same as well. But I especially liked the defensive line package Fewell put into the game that used all four of the Giants’ defensive ends. Iamgine being Matt Moore and seeing a d-line of Tuck – Pierre-Paul – Kiwi – Osi right in front of you. With all these weapons in the front four and in the back four at his disposal, Fewell will continue using a lot of packages and schemes for the remainder of the season. And I can’t wait.

Special Teams Summary:

Three A’s describe the special teams: Awful, Atrocious, Absolutely horrendous. It seemed like the Panthers offense was playing on an Arena League field, starting just 50 yards away from the endzone. Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn has some work to do this week

Key Stats:

In the second half the Giants outscored the Panthers 17-2, and outgained the Panthers 196-72.

Under heavy pressure, Moore completed just 5 of 14 passes in the last 16:42 of playing time. He threw two of his three interceptions and was sacked four times during that span.

Injuries:

The Giants lost tight end Kevin Boss (neck/concussion) and special teams captain Chase Blackburn (knee). More on their injuries later in the week.

Quotes:

Justin Tuck: “It was fun. That second half was truly fun. That’s how I remember the Big Blue defense. We’ve got to get back to that on a consistent basis.”

Terrell Thomas: “We matched their strength. They want to run the ball, OK, instead of having an extra corner in the game or a small WILL ‘backer, we put an extra big body in there and it made a difference. Last year they ran the ball down our mouth.”

Barry Cofield: “Everybody is hungry up there. We got to stop the run, that is a sense of pride. But sacking the quarterback is like dessert, it is like a treat.”

What’s Next?:

A lot of preparation will go into next Sunday night’s game at Indianapolis. Many quarterbacks the Giants will face this year, like Peyton, won’t throw three picks inside the redzone. Both Coughlin and Fewell emphasized a return to detailed preparation and physicality this offseason. The Giants’ defense lost sight of those fundamentals last season, but they returned for some stretches today and the defense looks poised for a big rebound this season. Look for a few more wrinkles on defense, look for the running game to improve next week, and look for a preview coming this Friday.

We’re 1-0. On to the next one.

Sunday, 8:00 PM, NBC – New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts